Thursday, March 10, 2016

on being creative

My blog friend Rita just wrote a thought-provoking post on being creative. (Actually, she wrote it a week ago, but this house has been full of Pestilence and Disease for the past ten days, so I'm just now getting around to writing this.)

I've given a lot of thought lately to what "being creative" means, because it is something I greatly enjoy and yet do not do enough of. I have a lot of the same reasons Rita has.

1) I fear that what I make won't be good enough.

Good enough for who?

I'm not painting in my garage during the ten minutes between dinner and bedtime so I can submit something to the Whitney, or even to sell on Etsy.  I'm painting because I enjoy doing so.

Most of what I create is hanging on the walls of my house.  Not one person has ever walked into my house and said "wow, you hang that crap on your walls?" A few people on the internet have given less than kind feedback, but one could easily avoid this by not posting work on the internet.

Ninety-nine point nine percent of the world can create stuff without other people mocking it.  George W. Bush does have creative talent.  He's no Michaelangelo, but he turns out a decent painting.  Then his mom goes on the Today Show critiquing his portrait of his dad and says "that's my husband?"

Since more than likely you are not a former leader of the free world, you are free to create whatever you like without your mom disparaging it on national television.

2) Making something might take one try, or one hundred and forty-seven tries.

You have to respect the process.

Just like Hemingway's supposed quote on writing, the first draft of anything is shit.  This applies to just about everything I've ever painted.

For years, I would try and do something, and I would hate it, then I would paint over it, and then I would do it again, and it would still suck.  I would put it away, and then maybe a few weeks or months later I'd drag it out and try again.  And then I'd start to feel like I was getting somewhere.  Sometimes I'd finish, be ok with the finished product, and then decide a month later that it wasn't quite done. In fact, I think everything I've ever painted has been "finished" and then redone a month later.

The problem was that I used to look at that process as being evidence of not being good at something.  Now, I'm starting to look at it as part of the process. It takes me weeks or months and eleventymillion tries before I make something I'm proud of.  Some people can turn out something awesome in ten minutes.

I can't make anything quickly. But I can make something I like in a couple of weeks. Respect the process.

3) The more you do, the better you get.

Even if "better" isn't "awesome."

I have been painting on and off for a few years.  But only in the last year do I feel a certain freedom in making bad stuff.  In fact, I'm starting to expect crap on the first go round. Its sort of like Thomas Alva Edison--I've discovered 10,000 ways that don't work.  And, I've discovered a few ways that DO work.  And if I keep going, maybe I'll find something else that works.

Sometimes I get discouraged and think "this is terrible" and I put it away for a while.

The Ira Glass piece is true---you actually have to DO something in order to get better at it. And you will make a ton of terrible stuff before eventually turning out good stuff.

I've been working on painting flowers for a year. I suck at them. They look terrible. I'm not sure why, as flowers are basically circles, but still, I keep plugging onward.  Someday I'll turn out a decent flower.

4) Make it easy to get started.

I don't have a nice art studio.  I don't even have a spot with good light.  I do have a little spot right inside the garage door where I leave everything out, in case inspiration hits.

Something else that keeps me from painting on a consistent basis:  I'm not wearing painting clothes.

Painting occasionally lends itself to the time confetti that is motherhood. I can put a touch here, a touch there in between loading the dishwasher and waiting for the kids.  In fact, most paintings actually require doing a little of this and a little of that and then waiting for it to dry before adding another layer.  But I have managed to get paint on just about all of my nice clothes, so I stopped doing that.

I'm not doing something I really enjoy because I  might ruin my clothes. Clearly I need to get a painting coverall (painting bathrobe? Really big shirt?) and hang it right next to my painting area. (This starts to morph into a "not enough time" problem--changing my clothes acknowledges that I am about to use a large chunk of time doing something creative. Sometimes it is just easier to think, eh, not enough time to do anything today.)

5) Dana at House Tweaking wrote a good review of Elizabeth Gilbert's book Big Magic, which is about being creative.  It sounds like a great read.

How do you push yourself to be creative?


  1. I think it is great that you make time for painting. And the recent paintings you posted are quirky and fun...why not hang are you created and clearly enjoy seeing? Additionally, I think your example is great for your children - you do something, you keep trying, you are persistent. Kids (and adults) need to learn that. Keep having fun and getting paint on your clothes!

  2. I love posts on creativity :) . And far from having to push myself to be creative, I think I'm actually a creativity junkie --- I need hits of it in order to feel "right" (as bizarre as that may sound). When my older two were very little I did a ton of sewing (clothing for them, clothing for me, Christmas gift bags, home decor stuff...) and my friend asked me how I managed to be so productive with two young kids. I told her it was all done in those snatched moments --- 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there, with my sewing machine and ironing board constantly out and ready to go. I'm doing more knitting than sewing these days, and although knitting is THE BEST for snatched-moment creativity, I would like to get back to sewing more and am trying to figure out how to set up a permanent space that doesn't involve the dining room.

    I do find I have problems with allowing myself time to experiment in the "process" of creativity --- I'm naturally impatient, and that, coupled with my ongoing angst about SAHM productivity/work, means I'm way too hard on myself when things don't turn out well the first time around. This means lots of "percolation time" but little actual "doing time", at least for creative pursuits which are not yet second nature. (In other words, I have still not started on artwork for the empty wall over our living room/office couch).

    How about a lab coat for a painting smock? It would be thicker and therefore hopefully less permeable to paint than a regular oversized shirt. If you live in or near a university town you could probably find lab coats at a campus bookstore.

    1. oh, I would be so thrilled to have a dedicated art space--I'd have all my painting stuff out, AND my sewing machine. Imagine the possibilities! Next house :-)

      I would like to do more sewing, but the prospect of dragging out the sewing machine, getting everything set up, then having ten minutes to actually do a project, then having to dismantle everything...I'd get more practice in if it weren't such a hassle to get everything set up.

      You can do art for your living room! How about a macrame hanging? Closer to your wheelhouse than painting, low commitment if you don't like it.

  3. We used to use one of dad's old button down shirts (worn backwards) when we were little. You could do the same thing.

    And I can't wait to get my art from you!

  4. Yep--a lab coat sounds wonderful--or a big 19th century type apron. With sleeves. Thanks for pointing me to Rita's blog. I've missed her presence on the internet. About creativity? Keep on.

    1. Oh, hi Alana! I'm still plugging away. I get to read more than comment these days.

    2. thanks, Alana, glad I could help!

  5. Having my own place to keep things out has been revelatory to me. I'm never going to want to go back. I'm going to fight hard to keep it, even if/when our living situation changes. I'm with the others: Find a smock of some sort. Reading this post, I was aware that I'm totally fine with a long, messy writing process in which the first draft is pretty crappy. I know that's just part of it. I can't seem to cut myself the same slack when it comes to visual works. I'm sure it's because I haven't had enough experience to trust the process, or to have faith that if I keep at it, the crap will evolve. Or because I don't have enough skill yet to get the crap to evolve. Appreciate the spur to keep thinking about these things. And thanks for the shout-out! :-)

    1. I don't blame you--I would love love love to have a dedicated art space. Or even a dedicated corner of the garage where people aren't tripping over my paints. My grandfather built my grandmother a small painting house in the backyard in the 90s--it was a shed with lots of windows. Isn't that the loveliest gift?

      Its been about *four years* of me painting to get to a point where I feel confident about making something I like, eventually. You'll get there, eventually. I think finding the time to practice is the hardest part, since I want everything to be perfect on the first try.

    2. I think we are, in many ways, two peas in an exacting pod. It's nice to have company. :-)

    3. I think we are, in many ways, two peas in an exacting pod. It's nice to have company. :-)

  6. I'm with the others-- If protection for your clothes is all that stands between you and your creativity, get thee a smock :). I've found old snuggies (yes- snuggies!) or old-lady-type housecoats to be helpful / cheap / easily obtainable in that respect. Well, so long as you don't mind looking like the crazy neighbor lady while painting, that is.

    On another note, THANK YOU SO MUCH for this post! It came at the perfect time for me, and it resonated on so many levels beyond the creative. I really can't express how much it helped. Thank you!

    1. hahahahaha, a snuggie...that is a great idea. I'm glad the post was helpful!

  7. Hi lisa,
    I am going crazy, I thought I posted here but obviously forgot to press that I am not a robot.
    If you like floral paintings have a look at a post barnaclebutt did on recreating art similar to luli wallace . I think it is great and I also think you would love it .You don't have to recreate her painting just grab a picture of your favourite flowers and use a similar technique to paint them . I look forward to seeing more beautiful artwork soon.
    Kind Regards


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